I’ve become protective of you. My hackles went up more than once the past couple of weeks as I traveled and listened to people on the East Coast tell me about where I live. In case you didn’t know, the middle part of America – that’s us - has been placed on the therapist couch. We are pinned to a tar tray, under bright lights, so the rest of the country can dissect and examine our organs and muscles, and wonder aloud to each other about how we are built.

As I traveled, I listened as people told me how you felt and what you thought. They knew all about it because they read it somewhere, written by someone who flew out and sat for a time with the men at a small town diner’s Stammtisch table and reported back what they heard.

“You’re an idiot.” That’s the thing I meant to say in my head, but that I said out loud in response to a woman across the table from me. Part of my trip was to finish grad school in Vermont, and a big part of grad school is to share writing and research and have your peers tear it apart and hand you back the remnants in a dustpan. I offered up an essay I wrote about Grant Wood, about how the interpretation of his work shifts as people change the way they see the Midwest. The woman said, “I don’t know why you had to make it political. Rural America is not political. People don’t think. They just accept the ‘R’ label and that’s it.”

“You’re an idiot.” Maybe that’s what the two-party system has done to us. Maybe our perception of each other has become binary and boring. Maybe it has turned that woman into an idiot who can’t see that everyone has a complex belief system, developed over years of good and bad experiences, shaped by landscape and friendships and family.

We’ve all been given gifts specific to our life’s path and the gift I’ve been given is the chance to live in all parts of the country – Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Maine, Southern Illinois, Idaho, Wyoming and now in Iowa. It’s a beautiful thing to have explored all the corners of this country, to have been a witness to many ways of living and to have listened to so many life stories born of different geographies. It’s made me a more compassionate person. It’s made me more aware of complexities. It’s also made me impatient with broad brush strokes and flattened explanations of the behavior of strangers.

That woman’s comment rang in my head. My hackles didn’t go down. I know there’s a lot more words to be written and spoken about us, about this place. 2017 is the mea culpa tour as journalists and authors and pollsters strain to hear what they couldn’t hear before the election. And there’s something to admire in that, in self-examination. But my defenses are up and if those words are going to go out, I want to contribute.

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For a while, I want to use this my editor’s column differently, and I need your help. I want to write about what people believe and how they got there and how it continues to evolve. I’m looking for people willing to let me in to their lives and their thoughts, so we can explore ideas together – in the moment and in this column. I’m not quite sure what shape or direction this will take, but I’d like to try it, with your input and, most likely, a little patience.

If you want to be part of a column, or if you have a suggestion of someone who might be willing, send me an email or give me a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

Autumn Phillips is executive editor of the Quad-City Times and qctimes.com. 563-383-2264; aphillips@qctimes.com; on Twitter @autumnedit.

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